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Since its opening in March, Nick Jones’ Soho House has quickly become the go-to place in Los Angeles. Not only a haven for visiting or resident Brits, it’s now the hip place for Hollywood’s bronzed beau monde to hang. Well, hang and partay.
I was there on Wednesday night, to host a party for Elton John, following his concert with singer-songwriter Leon Russell at the Hollywood Palladium (a venue that manages to look futuristic and nostalgic at the same time). And partay we did, with Mad Men star Jon Hamm, Benicio Del Toro, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, Bret Easton Ellis, Green Day, Sharon Osbourne, Rufus Wainwright, Robert De Niro’s daughter Drena, Matt Goss of Bros, Eric McCormack of Will and Grace, Katherine Jenkins, Minnie Driver, former Andy Warhol acolyte Cherry Vanilla and legendary producer T-Bone Burnett, the man who twiddled the knobs on The Union, Elton and Leon’s remarkable new album.
This was the seventh Los Angeles party GQ has done with Elton and his partner David Furnish; the initial idea was to use it as a way of ingratiating ourselves with the music and show business industries but it’s turned into an annual bacchanal.
I love Hollywood parties like these, as you never really know who’s going to turn up, and it all seemed rather surreal to be standing, 20-odd floors above LA, looking out over the twinkling city lights, in a room with enigmatic French fashion designer Hedi Slimane in one corner, and Ant and Dec in another. Hamm is not only the hottest guy on television at the moment, he’s the man everyone stares at when he enters a room. Hamm and I had our photograph taken (I know, lucky him), and as the flash went off, I whispered in his ear, “By the time we publish this in GQ, your hair is going to be on my head.”
Two weeks earlier, we had been in New York for a benefit gala at Cipriani 42nd Street for the Norman Mailer Center and Writers Colony. We were there as a team to present British GQ’s first student writing award (the winner was Helen Madden, a 65-year-old mother of two), and the difference between that event and this was pointed. In Manhattan, as soon as the event ended at 10.25pm, everyone shot off, got into their limos and went home. In Los Angeles, people were partying into the wee small hours, and not just the Brits either.
The mid-term elections took place while I was in California, and you could see why many here thought Obama was going to get a rather bloody nose. The streets of San Francisco – and those of Santa Barbara – were full of homeless people pushing shopping trolleys full of dirty rags and food painstakingly picked out of rubbish bins. It was like being in one of those post-apocalyptic science-fiction films where vagrants wander the wasteland looking for food and shelter.
According to the San Francisco Public Health Department, only 26 homeless people died on the streets last year. While this is an improvement on the 1990s, when there were on average more than 100 deaths every year among the homeless here, it is still a shocking number. It is also something San Franciscans have got used to. As we were standing in line at a diner one morning, queuing to have breakfast, a tramp pushed open the door, politely said, “Excuse me,” and then grabbed a pile of French fries that had been left on someone’s plate. No one flinched. Unemployment in some parts of California has risen to 17 per cent and the state’s debt is something like $20bn. Basically California is a bit like France, with an enormous deficit caused by state pensions of up to 90 per cent of final salary until death, coupled with intractable unions.
Former governor Jerry Brown got his old job back in the elections but will he make any difference? Well, as the controversial Proposition L was passed in the elections, it’s now illegal to sit on the pavements between the hours of 7am and 11pm. This suggests that everyone’s OK with homelessness as long as the vagrants wake up and move along by rush hour.
As for Obama’s speech the day after the mid-terms, those on the left told me they thought he was weak for apologising, those on the right thought he was weak for grudgingly admitting he’d misjudged the American people, and those like me in the middle thought he came across as rather a feeble mixture of contrition and petulance.
Obama has passed historic bills on healthcare and Wall Street regulation, bailed out the car industry, and stuck to his timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. But he has still found it nigh impossible to resonate with enough of the populace. And while many of the problems in the economy were created on George W Bush’s watch, all Obama is really being judged on is his ability to improve it. Which he hasn’t.
I was driving a huge Mercedes AMG – the sort that overtakes cars as though it were in a computer game – and spent a lot of time whizzing around LA, over to Hancock Park, down to Abbot Kinney, across to Silverlake, and over the hills to Encino, in the Valley. Now, if you live here, especially if you work in the movies, then it’s fashionable to dismiss Encino as a suburban desert, good enough only for those not smart enough to live in Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Holmby Hills or West Hollywood. What rubbish. My friends in Encino have a house the size of Cheshire, in a garden the size of Wales, and it only takes them 20 minutes to get into the city. Yes, they do have David Hasselhoff living opposite but you can’t have everything, not even in Los Angeles.
Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s long-time song-writing partner and another contributor to The Union, was also partying in LA. And ironically it was Taupin I was listening to as I started my drive down from San Francisco a week earlier, where I’d been on a family holiday. As I walked into my cabin way up in the mountains in Big Sur, it was Taupin’s American Roots radio show that was being piped into the room. Ten minutes later I was lying in the steel hot tub on the porch, watching the sun set, sipping a rather fine Cabernet, and listening to Taupin introduce Bull Moose Jackson’s “My Big Ten Inch”. That’s California for you: decadence and nature in equal measure.
Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ magazine